Turkish writer/director Orcun Behram has tackled his first feature film with The Antenna, a creeping political allegory with a good dose of horror.
The Antenna takes place in a dystopian Turkey where the Government installs new networks throughout the country to monitor information. In one crumbling apartment complex, the installation goes wrong and Mehmet (Ihsan Önal), the building intendant, will have to confront the evil entity behind the inexplicable transmissions that threaten the residents.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Behram about his film, political allegory, and the horror genre.
Kelly McNeely: So there’s a strong political allegory in The Antenna. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Orcun Behram: Yes I can, of course. So in the film, what I tried to manage is that I tried to create like two different allegories. One of them is the relationship between the real and the imagery, and how the image is starting to control the real. Because it creates the image from the real, but then there is a feedback from the media. That feedback, it becomes a loop and then you completely lose the real. So it’s about this theory of the similar and the simulation theory. This is one aspect of the film.
The second aspect is the link between the authoritarian power and the media, I find that this is a very dangerous link that can be very manipulative and democracies are very vulnerable. I mean, media is one of the important components for a functional democracy — a functional system. I think that in many developing countries this is a major issue — the relationship between authoritarian power and the media. And I think sometimes it’s an issue in the first world countries as well, maybe not in the form of governments, but in the form of corporations. So the political allegory and criticism is mostly based on this.
Kelly McNeely: I know we’ve got Baskin that came out of Turkey, which is sort of the big one that everyone knows about. Are genre film and horror big in Turkey?
Orcun Behram: Well, I mean, it is actually very big. In terms of box office, there are many horror movies made. But the thing is, it’s mostly surrounding Islamic elements, the Islamic Genie and so on. So it’s harder to find some horror films outside that box. But within that box, there’s a lot of things that are being produced. Some are good, some are… not so much. Yeah, but I think slowly there are some other people that are starting to make horror films that are outside that box.
Kelly McNeely: What were your inspirations or what were you influenced by when making the film?
Orcun Behram: I mean, directly making the film I don’t think I was influenced by something but I grew up watching horror films. It was very close and dear to my heart. So I would watch anything that I could get my hands on. I grew up watching movies by Cronenberg, Carpenter, Dario Argento, so without realizing I think I’m influenced by all these. What I want to create is what I enjoy as well. So I can see similarities in this film with the styles of Cronenberg, Carpenter, in a way, at least in what I tried to say. I think I was influenced by these masters.
Kelly McNeely: I can see that, absolutely. I know this is your first feature film that you’ve created, what was the genesis of the film? Where did it come from as far as the idea and how did you get it on the ground and get it running?
Orcun Behram: The idea initially came from what I was talking about — the relationship of the real and the imagery. I made a short film about 10 years ago called Column, again it was about a woman that wakes up to the announcement of her death in the newspaper. So it was also about the image controlling the real itself; the image becoming the hyper-real and becoming stronger. So it initially came from that, I wanted to build up more on that idea.
But then obviously, you know, what goes on around the world is this link that I was talking about, this authoritarian power and the media. So this is a dynamic that is so scary that it works in terms of horror — the horrors of the real world, in a way.
Kelly McNeely: Yeah, absolutely. And I really get that sense in the film. There are — especially now — a lot of horrors going on in the world and a lot of things being silenced, I think, which really comes out in the film.
What were the challenges of making The Antenna?
Orcun Behram: Well I was also the producer of my film as well, I was investing in the film. So the challenges were resources — it was done on a very low budget. We shot the majority of the film in a small town in an abandoned post office with no heating, nothing. We were building everything from scratch; all these areas, all the surreal scenes that you see in the film are built from scratch. There’s not much CGI in them. You’re painting the walls, building things from wooden planks, searching junk yards for all the pieces… So that was the most challenging part, building the sets. That was very time consuming and difficult, and there were a lot of obstacles to solve.
Kelly McNeely: Now speaking of practical effects and building things, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask how did you make that black sludge? What is that?
Orcun Behram: Oh! We used water and black paint, and what do you use inside gum… the sugar gums, like the candy?
Kelly McNeely: Oh, okay, so kind of like a little bit of a gelatin to it.
Orcun Behram: Yeah, it’s like a gelatin. So it’s a mixture of those three.
Kelly McNeely: It works really, really well. I loved the way it just runs down the walls. It has this really great viscous quality to it, which is really creepy.
Orcun Behram: Oh, I loved the look of it! But the entire crew was covered with it. We had to take showers over and over because of it. It’s still haunting our dreams [laughs]. But the look of it was beautiful.
Kelly McNeely: This being your first feature film that you made, what advice would you give to aspiring or up and coming filmmakers that want to do their first feature? Things that you learned or things that you think would be good to pass along.
Orcun Behram: Okay. I mean, it’s a tough question.
Kelly McNeely: It’s a tough question!
Orcun Behram: Because I am so also new in the industry, it’s hard to give this advice. What I learned is that you have to be really prepared that everything goes really bad, that everything does not go according to plan. It’s very important to prepare those storyboards, think through and have second plans, but you should go for it. I think that’s the thing. You should make the jump, but you have to be really prepared because nothing goes according to plan.
Kelly McNeely: You have to be flexible.
Orcun Behram: You have to be flexible. But to be flexible, you have to be really prepared. There are so many decisions that you have to make, and the earlier you make them, the better it’s going to be on the set, because you’re you’re gonna have to remake those decisions, and you better have some coverage, otherwise you will go insane. That would be my advice from the little that I know [laughs].
Kelly McNeely: Now you mentioned that you’re that you’re a big fan of the genre — the horror genre — what is it that draws you to horror films in particular, and what is it that drew you to making a horror film?
Orcun Behram: First of all, I think that horror has the power to be very free; it uses many symbols, it can be very allegorical, it has always been political. So within that I think it has a huge freedom to use allegories. I like to tell stories through allegories.
And on top of that, I have this nostalgic and emotional connection to it. I think it starts off as maybe the joy of scaring yourself, just a little touch of adrenaline as a kid. With my friends, we would go to this dark room under the apartments and we would scare ourselves; we would imagine if something is going to come out or not. This is something that feeds your imagination and that feeds your hormonal stance in a way, and you find that in horror films. I found that in horror films later on as a kid, and then it turns into almost like a fetish because horror films have such a world that, you know..
Kelly McNeely: You’re drawn into it.
Orcun Behram: Yeah, yeah.
Kelly McNeely: What do you hope that audiences will take away from The Antenna, and what message do you want to communicate with the film?
Orcun Behram: What I was initially saying I think is the main message; the relationship between the power and the media, and on top of that, the media and the reality. So this is the message that I would like to come away with.
Also I want to show a film that is visually appealing and interesting. And by visuals and sound, something that’s provocative.